A new coach and the memory of a rough season could create change for the Maricopa High School softball team.
Brandi Howell has taken the reins of the Rams and is quickly learning what kind of talent she will be working with. Softball camp and an early scrimmage offered insight into a team that finished 11-16 last year.
Howell was a junior varsity and assistant varsity coach for two years in Iowa after graduating from Minnesota State Moorhead, where she played softball.
“I’m a teacher, as well, and I decided to try something different,” she said of her move to Arizona. “And I was ready for warmer weather.”
The Feb. 20 scrimmage against Northwest Christian was a chance to see how her team was meshing early on. She got a good look at pitchers Victoria Andrade (who has already signed a letter of intent to play for South Mountain Community College) and Amber Cramer. Also returning to the pitching staff is Yasmin Santa Cruz, who was 3-1 as a sophomore.
“I think pitching will be a strength this year, and hitting I think will be a strength,” Howell said. “As the season goes, I think defense will become strong.”
Defense was something she was particularly eyeing during the scrimmage as the girls prepared to start the season in the 23-team Boulder Creek Sun Blast Tournament in Anthem.
Howell had been hearing the team needed to shore up its defense, even before establishing starters. “Our middle infield is young,” she said.
The Rams have a 16-player roster, including nine juniors. Andrade is one of five seniors Howell is looking to for leadership, and she already sees that. “We have good leaders, we have strong leaders,” she said.
Claudia Portillo, Samantha Dugan, Shay Barney and Isabel McCloskey “have been leaders on and off the field,” Howell said. “They’ve been making sure the girls are there on time, and if we’re making errors they’ll stop the scrimmaging and start again.”
Though there were tryouts, no one was cut. The coach got to know not just the varsity but also the JV team through camps.
Assisting her with the varsity team are Steve Weiner and Tom Dugan. The fact the girls were already familiar with them was a benefit, Howell said. At the JV level, Roberto Muro is head coach, and Rich Vitiello is assistant.
The Rams play their first home games in the annual Krystin Diehl Tournament, which runs through March 7.
March 5-7 Krystin Diehl Tournament
March 16 at Marcos de Niza HS
March 18 vs. Flowing Wells HS
March 19 vs. Catalina Foothills HS
March 25 at Horizon Honors
March 26 vs. Salpointe Catholic HS
March 30 vs. Seton Catholic HS
April 1 at Marana HS
April 6 vs. Coronado HS
April 8 at Casa Grande Union HS
April 10 vs. Vista Grande HS
April 13 at Williams Field HS
April 14 at Marana Mountain View HS
April 16 at Mountain Pointe HS
April 21 vs. Canyon del Oro HS
April 23 vs. Ironwood Ridge HS
April 27 at Cibola HS
April 29 at Poston Butte HS